Brazil now has the highest daily number of coronavirus deaths anywhere in the world, with more than 4,000 deaths per day recorded twice this month, according to figures compiled by Our World in Data, a project by the University of Oxford.
The country’s total number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus now stands at more than 350,000, the second highest in the world, behind the US, which has a larger population.
Brazil has the second highest Covid-19 death toll in the world
Covid-19 confirmed deaths are cumulative, by country
In March, the country recorded an excess of 89,984 deaths over the average number of deaths during the same month from 2015 to 2019. That’s more than four times that recorded in the United States, a country with a population of one and a half times as much. The number in neighboring Peru is 3,740, a per capita rate almost four times lower.
So how and why did the pandemic develop like this in Brazil?
A number of factors are likely contributing to the rampant spread of the virus, including a new variant of Covid-19 known as P.1, as well as the malfunctioning federal government response, led by president Jair Bolsonaro, who has largely rejected its implementation. locking action to curb disease.
The following chart reveals various aspects of the crisis.
The spread of variant P.1
The P.1 variant is thought to have first appeared in the city of Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon late last year. It contains some worrying mutations, including E484K, which is seems to provide a virus with some ability to circumvent immunity acquired through infection or natural vaccinations. Several other Covid-19 lineages have also developed E484K, including the South African variant – but P.1 includes two other mutations of particular concern, called K417T and N501Y, which also modify the viral spike protein.
Although it is estimated that 76 percent of Manaus’s population have antibodies related to infections during the first wave, the city has been hit by a second wave of coronaviruses which is thought to be linked to the emergence of variant P.1.
Variant P.1 is now estimated to have a prevalence of over 80% in Brazil
Percentage of P.1-positive sequences with upper and lower confidence intervals, 7-day rolling mean
“We firmly believe a large number of cases are caused by this variant, because it is more contagious. There is no doubt about this, ”José Eduardo Levi, a researcher at the University of São Paulo, told New Statesman. In Brazil’s most populous state of São Paolo, the arrival of P.1 replaced all other variants in a short period of time, indicating higher transmissibility, he added.
The prevalence of P.1 has increased rapidly since its discovery in December 2020. It is now estimated to represent about 80 percent of new cases nationwide. It has also spread from Brazil to neighboring countries, including Colombia and Chile, as well as further afield, including several confirmed cases in the US and UK.
The Brazilian variant is still spreading to neighboring countries
The cumulative prevalence of variant P.1 in Brazil and other countries
The Intensive Care Unit was filled with people under their 40s
In the middle of last month, Brazil’s intensive care unit (ICU) was close to capacity, with only two states reporting occupancy rates below 80 percent. The pressure on the hospital system is likely to have continued for a month since then, as deaths and daily cases have remained at high levels.
As of mid-March, only two Brazilian states had occupancy rates below 80% in their ICU beds
Covid-19 ICU bed occupancy for adults in Brazil’s public health system on March 16
Fiocruz Covid-19 Observatory
Additionally, one recent study by the Brazilian Association of Intensive Medicine points to just that more than half of the ICU beds now populated by patients aged 40 and under, a trend some scientists believe may be partly due to P.1.
More than half of ICU patients in Brazil are under 40 years of age
Percentage of ICU patients, by characteristics
“The high number of cases among young people does not explain why, once they are infected, they face worse outcomes,” said Levi, adding that scientists may soon prove that P.1 is more lethal, including among younger patients, apart from being more contagious.
Vaccination rollout is slow
Although Brazil’s public health system is highly respected, their vaccination program lags behind even compared to other South American countries. As of April 13, Brazil has shipped just 27 million doses, as shown in New Statesman International Vaccine Tracker, which worked as 13 doses per 100 people, well behind Chile with 63 and Uruguay 30 per 100.
In addition, more than 40 percent of the vaccine doses Brazil purchased were China’s Sinovac jab, according to Duke University’s Center for Global Health Innovation. Jab is now produced in São Paulo, but is only 50.7 percent effective against the P.1 variant, according to a study.
Bolsonaro has largely resisted the lockdown, which he said caused more serious economic damage than a virus he once called “the little flu.”
“We will not accept the ‘stay at home, close everything, lock’ policy,” he said last week. “There will be no national lockdown. Our soldiers are not taking to the streets to force the Brazilians into their homes.”
Brazilian workers have never been away from work as much as other countries
Percent change in number of visitors to workplaces, relative to the pre-pandemic period, 7-day rolling average
Although some states and cities have implemented restrictions independently of the federal government, Google’s mobility data shows that a lack of coordinated federal response has caused more Brazilians to move around than people in neighboring countries. Brazilian workers also didn’t stay away from work as much as in other countries, data showed, with a drop in activity around late December and early April likely linked to the Christmas and Easter holidays.
Bolsonaro “prioritizes economic openness versus lockdowns and underestimates the relevance of the virus”, Elena Lazarou, a fellow at the Chatham House think tank, told New Statesman. “In some states, the governor has a very different approach to the federal government and Bolsonaro in particular,” but was not given sufficient government funding to impose restrictions, he added.
The lack of a coordinated federal response means there are fewer restrictions on interstate travel, which contributes to the rapid spread of the P.1 variant, Levi said. “Manaus can only be reached by boat or plane. It is enough to prohibit people from riding without PCR [Covid] test, we were able to significantly limit the spread of the P.1 variant. ”
Without more vaccine doses, the virus is likely to continue spreading in Brazil, not only among those not vaccinated but also among those who have been infected by other variants, creating the ideal petri dish for the emergence of further variants of concern, said Levi. , adding: “Brazil represents a threat to the world.”